Archive for the 'Project' Category

The fall and rise of the webinar/web conference

In the last couple of weeks my aggregation channels have been gently humming to the sound of webinars. It seems a number of institutions are rediscovering the possibilities of these tools to support flexible delivery (and no doubt cut costs allow the reallocation of staff time to enhance the learner experience). This post is designed to highlight some projects and technical developments that I’ve come across.


Two projects, both funded by the Higher Education Academy, have found their way into my inbox. At Queen Margaret University the Higher Education Academy Subject Centre for Dance, Drama and Music (PALATINE) has funded “An exploration of learner and tutor experience in using online synchronous learning environments across disciplines within the School of Drama and Creative Industries”.

The objectives of this 9 month study are:

    To conduct an in-depth, comparative study of tutor and student experiences of using an online synchronous learning environment (OSLE) in order to:

    • Build a rich picture of actual learner and tutor engagement with such technology across four drama programmes at undergraduate and postgraduate level;
    • Develop an understanding of the impact of using an OSLE in the learning experience;
    • Develop guidelines and case studies for educators to improve learner and tutor use of OSLEs.

As part of this project we are supporting QMU, PALATINE and the HEA Subject Centre for Medicine, Dentistry & Veterinary Medicine (MEDEV) in running the Crossing Virtual Boundaries - Teaching and Research with Online Synchronous Learning Environments (OSLEs) event to be held on the 10 June 2011 (click here for booking details). Here is a good starting point for find out more about the QMU project.

The second project is funded as of part of the HEA Discipline-focused Learning Technology Enhancement Academy Programme. The Collaboration for Excellence in a Distance Learning Environment (Excel-DL)  project is being led by the University of Salford. I haven’t seen much detail about this project but do know their aim is to:

evaluate the use of ‘Elluminate Live’, a synchronous online collaboration delivery method for postgraduate distance learners within the School of the Built Environment, University of Salford (to inform the wider context of Construction & Built Environment Community)

The main reason for highlighting this project is because they are hosting a free online session on ‘Synchronous Online Learning: Bridging the Divide’ on the 10th November 2010 from 1m to 4:15pm. The aim of the event is to:

“is to explore the pros and cons and the pedagogical inspirations of this particular innovation with distinguished academics”

Sessions in the event include:

  • Practice and pedagogies of synchronous online learning – Tim Neumann
  • Synchronous vs asynchronous online learning – Stefan Hrastinski
  • Play time: an interactive demonstration of the possibilities of synchronicity – Peter Chatterton
  • The blended situated learner context for synchronous collaboration – Ian Mills & Georgina Evans
  • Anticipating the future learner – Simon Kear

Click here for more information and to book a place

Software developments

As well as renewed interest in the human side of webinars there are also a couple of software developments worth flagging:

Blackboard:  Wimba + Elluminate = Gemini

If you are a Blackboard user you might be interested in Collborate on Gemini post by Kevin Brace at Aston University. This post reviews a recent webinar he attended outlining Blackboard’s roadmap for merging their recently acquired Wimba and Elluminate webinar platforms.

Adobe Connect Mobile for Android

Mobile technology is everywhere, quite literally, and if you are talking about flexible delivery it is inevitable that mobiles will come into the conversation. Looking at the disputed Wikipedia Comparison of web conferencing software you’ll see very few products are declaring mobile device support. For institutions using or looking into Adobe Connect you might be interested to hear that Connect Mobile for Android is now available. This adds to their support for iPhone related devices (iPad, iPod Touch and iPhone).

Open source alternative: Big Blue Button

I was initially dismissive about the open source webinar tool ‘Big Blue Button’ not finding the interface very intuitive, but then I had session in Adobe Connect and concluded all webinar software is counterintuitive. Rather than going through the details of Big Blue Button I recommend you read Steve Boneham’s blog post, which should have everything you need and more. The Moodle integration looks particularly interesting.   

So what have I missed in all of this? Very interested to hear about other projects or tools in this area. Please share using the comments

PREVIEW - Clinical problem based learning in Second Life

A couple of weeks ago our RSC was involved in the Virtual Worlds 2008 event at the University of Stirling. As part of this I was tasked with facilitating a hands-on session being given by David Burden, MD at Daden Ltd (here’s Daden’s YouTube playlist). David was highlighting his work with University of Coventry and St. George’s Hospital, London on the JISC funded PREVIEW project.

The PREVIEW project have been exploring the use of virtual worlds, Second Life in particular, as an environment for problem-based learning (PBL) for care professionals and paramedic students. The care professionals are using open-ended PBL scenarios using a chatbot engine to create characters who can guide, act out eDramas and interact with students within Second Life. Paramedic students are using fixed-ended PBL scenarios which require them to conduct patient assessment and treatment on virtual patients in Second Life. The project is best summarised by the video below:

It was the paramedic scenarios which interested me the most, and in particular the Medbiquitous Virtual Patient (MVP) XML standard used to code them. This is an existing scripting language used to create virtual patients. The format is very similar to that found in ‘Fighting Fantasy’ books (i.e. a paragraph containing plot point followed by go to page x to do A, go to page y to do B, go to page z to do C). You can find examples of these on the University of Edinburgh’s Labyrinths site.

A virtual patient example is available here. The MVP standard uses a node model. For each page rendered there is an activity node which includes related assets: data availability, virtual patient data and media. The screenshot shows you how a page is rendered from the XML model. One of the limitations of the MVP model is that each node has a limited number of options, meaning there is a closed path, potentially inadvertently leading the students to the correct answer.

By using Second Life, PREVIEW have been able to take existing MVP scenarios and make them open ended. So instead of having a limited number of options, it is entirely up to the student as to how they proceed using only their existing medical training to guide them through the scenario.

The most important thing for me is that Second Life is only being used as a medium to interface the MVP scenario, consequently the scenarios can be exported to any other platform which supports MVP. The diagram below shows how this model works.

Communication structure of the MVP and Second Life
Diagram showing the flow of information between the XML, MVP Player and Second Life

To date the PREVIEW team at St. George’s have created 4 paramedic training scenarios. A short YouTube clip explaining these is here. I’ve made my own video so you can see what one of the scenarios looks likes from start to finish:

Click to open Paramedic Scenerio

The crucial thing to remember is that Second Life is only being used to interface the MVP data. So when you click on a IV canella data is being read from the separate server hosting the MVP data. If you wanted to create a different paramedic scenario, the majority of information would be coded using the MVP standard.

It doesn’t have to stop at medical scenarios. The MVP standard is flexible enough to be adapted to other discipline areas which rely on problem-based learning. So theoretically this technology could be used for forensics, mechanical engineering, the list can go on.

To create problem-based learning scenarios for other disciplines would require scripting the scenario using the MVP standard, then creating the objects in Second Life you would like students to use to interface with the MVP. For example, if you wanted to create a scenario for forensic students you could create an SL object called ‘swab’. Then in the MVP you would create an activity node ‘swab’, which is linked to a data availability node with the associated actions/text (additional information could be coded using the virtual patient data or media assets).

And all this is going to be made open-source! Yes, PREVIEW will be making the code and the Second Life assets FREELY available in the next couple of months. Which I’m sure you’ll agree is fantastic!

If you would like to try the scenarios yourself you can by registering on the PREVIEW site. You can also take a peak by going to the St. Georges Island in Second Life.


This blog is authored by Martin Hawksey e-Learning Advisor (Higher Education) at the JISC RSC Scotland N&E.

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